Peter Richardson.
Peter Richardson.

A decade since the mill closed and memories come flooding

IT'S hard to believe 10 years have passed since the Moreton Central sugar mill closed.

The Nambour Museum in Mitchell Street will hold an open day starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 30 to mark this anniversary of the watershed decision that ended an industry with the stroke of a pen.

Jogged by this advice, my memory took me back a little further in time to a hot September day in 1957, when I arrived in Nambour to take over the editorship of the Chronicle.

The dark plume hanging over the town was not the only smoke in the air, as bush fires were raging all around the district, but the mill stack was pumping out carbon, oblivious to the housewives' cries of frustration at having their washing blackened. It was all in a good cause, they were told. The ash from the stack, and the heavily sweet smell of molasses, were the symbols of prosperity not just for the farmers, but for the whole town.

The Chronicle office was next door to the Commercial Hotel, so I had many a yarn with the cane cutters and mill workers. The public bar was greatly favoured by the cutters, still black from the burnt-off cane, but they sometimes spilled over into the lounge, where they did have to observe some dress standards. A discreet notice read "Gentlemen are kindly requested to wear shirts."

Shirts or no shirts, and rough and ready as they were, the cane cutters, loco drivers and millworkers were a cheery lot who spoke their minds without fear, told great stories, tall or otherwise, and loved to cut down to size anyone they thought to be a bit up themselves.

This initially applied to me, until they saw that I was genuinely interested in their work, their yarns and opinions.

At the other end of the industry spectrum were the cane farmers. Gerry Walden's farm was one of the largest in the mill area, and he and wife Joyce traditionally held a "first burn" party, (It was then standard practice to burn off the block to be harvested next day to get rid of rats and other vermin, and the early-evening cane fires were a spectacular sight throughout the district.).

At one of the parties I attended, the burn got out of hand and Gerry and some of his guests had to turn out to save the whole crop. (I was not among them, as I would have just been a nuisance in a dangerous operation.)

Also high on the industry's pecking order was David Glasgow, the mill manager. He was an expansive host, particularly at the lunch which followed the annual meeting of mill shareholders, and I have a rueful memory of the overproof rum he arranged to be produced for the occasion.

So much for the past. Nambour has been doing it tough since the mill closed, but it's on the way back, and it's great that its sweet history has been well recorded.

At the museum open day, state governor Penelope Wensley will launch the book Locomotives of the Moreton Central Sugar Mill, by museum president Clive Plater.
 



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